The Care of Oneself, 2017
Danish-born Michael Elmgreen and Norwegian-born Ingar Dragset are one of the most famous duos in the contemporary art world. Now based in London and Berlin, they have been working together since 1995 and are perhaps best known for the gilded sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse that they positioned on the empty Fourth Plinth in London's Trafalgar Square ("Powerless Structures Fig. 101", 2011), contrasting the playful boy with the conquering generals and kings on the other plinths to present an alternative view of masculinity.
"The Care of Oneself" at Donum is a monumental sculpture of an idealised male nude that carries the inanimate body of another male nude – in much the same way that the Virgin Mary carries the lifeless body of Christ in Michelangelo's "Pietà". Considered more closely, the two figures reveal themselves to have the same face. They are, in fact, one and the same.
"It's a sculpture showing a man saving someone – like a hero – but he's actually saving himself, which puts into question personal responsibility, the individual versus society as a whole," Elmgreen explains.
"We wanted to use classical language, but do it in a contemporary way," adds Elmgreen of the stainless steel sculpture, whose mirrored surface also reflects the viewer and surrounding landscape. A version of this work stands in front of the Palace of Justice in Lyon, France. "If you put a sculpture in public, people relate to it in a more personal way, because we all own the public space, and it's nice."
Elmgreen & Dragset are otherwise known for works that are irreverent and fanciful. As the duo explain, their works pose the question: "What would happen if?" In their permanent sculpture "Prada Marfa" (2005), they created the replica of a Prada boutique filled with luxury shoes and handbags and positioned it in the middle of a desert in Texas. At their 2014 installation at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, "Tomorrow," they transformed five rooms of the museum into the furnished home of a failed imaginary architect, whose life story was summed up in a little booklet handed to visitors on site. Some of the objects in the fantasy apartment came from the artists' own homes.
For the Venice Biennale in 2009 they curated the exhibition The Collectors in the neighboring Danish and Nordic Pavilions (which include Norway, Sweden, and Denmark). In 2017 Elmgreen and Dragset were the curators of the Istanbul Biennale, and in September 2018 the Whitechapel Gallery in London presents a major exhibition of their work.